On the billboards dotting war-ravaged Kabul ahead of Saturday's
parliamentary elections, photographs of young candidates outnumber
those of the elders who have traditionally dominated the country's
Although there is no official breakdown of the candidates' ages,
election officials said more than half of the 2,556 candidates
running for the 249 seats of the Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of
parliament, are under 30.
Traditionally, young people, particularly women, are not allowed
to express their views on important national matters in the
presence of their elders.
Tribal elders have always represented the people in their areas,
but many young candidates said those old practices have failed and
there was a need for change.
Janan Musazai, 30, running for a Kabul constituency, said around
60 percent of the country's population was under the age of 25 and
wanted real representation in parliament.
"As a result of 30 years of violence, there has been a rise in
political and social consciousness among the young generation of
Afghanistan," he said.
The 28-year-old candidate Shafiqullah Salim Poya concurred. "The
young people are sick and tired of politics in this country," the
Kabul candidate said. "The youths are disillusioned with their
political leaders, and this is one way of saying that they don't
want to accept the status quo."
"By taking part in large numbers in the elections, they are
showing that they want change and they want to come and
participate in that change," he said.
Young men are not alone in vying for seats in parliament. A total
of 406 female candidates - mostly young ones - are also running
against a long list of influential people, including former
warlords, suspected drug barons and local powerbrokers, who
dominated the former parliament.
Robina Jalali, 25, a former Olympic runner, said she wanted to
enter parliament to "stand for the rights of women and young
people against lawmakers who want to deny them".
"I want to be a voice of young people and the sportspeople in the
parliament," she said.
But despite their ambitions, seen by some as bringing new hope to
the country's shaky democracy, many of the candidates were quick
to recognise the numerous obstacles facing them in the electoral
For many of the young male candidates, lack of financial support
was the main limiting factor in their campaigns. But female
candidates said their presence in the polls was meeting resistance
from many conservative groups in Afghanistan's male-dominated
"Unlike male candidates, we cannot visit any place at any time we
want because we are women and people see us differently," Jalali
said, adding that many of her campaign posters were either torn
down or defaced by men who said they did not want to see her on
The post-Taliban constitution allocates a quarter, or 68, of the
seats in the lower house of parliament for women.
The threats were harsher for Nima Suratgar, another female
candidate from Kabul. She said she received scores of abusive
e-mails and phone calls after her name appeared on the candidate
"I don't know who they are, but I keep receiving phone calls and
e-mails from people who threaten to kill me unless I quit," she
said. "Their only reason to kill me is that I am a woman and I
should not run in the elections."
Fawzia Gailani, a lawmaker from the western province of Herat who
is running for re-election, said the Taliban killed five of her
election campaigners after kidnapping them late last month.
The Taliban took responsibility for the killings after they failed
to coerce Gailani to withdraw her candidacy.
Despite the threats, all three women said they were determined to
stay the course.
"This is a big test for us female candidates," Suratgar said. "If
we are fearful and quit, then no woman will dare in future to run,
so this is a sacrifice that we have to accept and fight for our